QuikTrip hires the people it wants. The company picks the cream of the large crop that apply to the convenience store chain, which is well-known for paying well above minimum wage.
Human capital is king at QuikTrip.
But the company’s CEO cares a good deal about the people he doesn’t usually hire, the type who are usually weeded out by a professional interviewing staff or who don’t apply at all.
Chet Cadieux, the Tulsa-based convenience store chain’s CEO, is among the growing swath of business leaders making the case that social and emotional skills are integral for success in life and business and that those skills are fostered in a person’s development.
Cadieux was among the 2,000 business leaders who are members of ReadyNation, which is affiliated with the Council for a Strong America. He’s among those quoted in a recent report about the importance of early education.
The council bills itself as a bipartisan group that is working to ensure the next generation of Americans is ready to be citizens. The study is often referred to by its subtitle, “Why business executives want employees who play well with others.”
Cadieux sat down with the World recently in his office for an expansive interview about why working with others is important and how those habits are instilled early in life.
“I don’t think that most people would argue that that’s important,” he said. “They might argue around whether its important no matter what you’re going to be when you grow up. And there are probably industries where it isn’t as important. I haven’t come across them.”
“The vast majority of our selection process is screening for social emotional development,” said Cadieux, noting that no matter the role at QuikTrip, those skills are needed even in places where it isn’t commonly expected, such as the the programmers the company employs in spades.
“There are people who don’t play well with others,” he said. “And they are generally not successful. They may be successful today or tomorrow. But in the long-run, they aren’t successful, in my experience.”
He said the company, which was founded by his father, Chester, and Burt Holmes, had figured out people long before he got there. In his own experience, however, there were times when he was working in the stores and had to work 24 hours straight because two people called out and he had to fill the time.
Cadieux equates people not showing up for work to a lack of impulse control.
“Those who have it (impulse control) take it for granted right up until they see someone who doesn’t have it, and then they think they’re almost inhuman,” Cadieux said. “How could they do that? Well, it’s because they don’t have fully developed skills of playing well with others.”
He doesn’t think there’s a gap from one generation to the next and instead attributes what people say about the next generation to a lack of memory.
“My experience is that the prior generation always thinks that the next generation is worthless,” said Cadieux. “It’s not about that generation being worthless. It’s about us having a very short memory of what we were like at that age. Seriously.”
Regardless of generation, he said, the research is conclusive. These skills take root through early education.
So what made Cadieux want to talk about early childhood education?
“It isn’t founded with professional hat on,” he said. “It is as a Tulsan. ... Again, QuikTrip, we’ve been able to hire the people we need. But I see an awful lot of people who we wouldn’t pick, and you worry if they’re going to be able to find good employment.”
Then the thoughts turn back to business.
“Imagine how successful we could be if 20 percent of the applicants passed instead of 1 percent,” said Cadieux. “How many stores could we have? How many states could we be in? Then you back up and say, ‘We’re fine. We’re growing as fast as we need to anyway.’”
Tulsa, to Cadieux, is not a small place, but it’s not large enough that people don’t know each other. His interest was piqued by another Tulsa businessman, one known for his fervent belief in early education’s ability to blunt the force of circumstance — BOK Financial Chairman George Kaiser. Cadieux is on the BOKF board of directors.
“In this particular case, the person who started filling up my inbox with the research that he had come across was George Kaiser,” said Cadieux. “He convinced me pre-K education was important. The earlier the better.... Those formative years are really important.”